The Unfortunate Fluid Meaning of Words

Language changes over the years.  Sometimes, however, our understanding of that language doesn’t change. That one of the reasons for newer translations of Scripture. Some of the words from yesteryear have altogether different meanings today. One of my favorites in the old King James Version rendition of James 1:2 – “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.”  Divers temptations!  Folks, the only divers temptations I can think of are to go down too deep, stay down too long, and come up too fast!  Divers temptations!  In reality that is an old way of saying “diverse temptations,” or as we would say, “various temptations.”

Another word that can throw us for a loop is found in Genesis 2 where in verse 20 we read that a “help meet” was not found for Adam. Some of the newer translations use the word “helper” as in “helper suitable for him.”  Go to the dictionary and look up the word helper. Unfortunately, you may come away even more frustrated.  The dictionary defines helper as “one that helps; esp.: a relatively unskilled worker who assists a skilled worker; usually by manual labor.”  I think – no I know – that for a man to define his wife that way is a quick trip to the ER or worse! 

No woman alive wants to be called an “unskilled worker who assists a skilled worker!” So, what does this word “help meet” or “helper suitable for him” really mean?  I like the wording of the New Living Translation – it gets closer to the real meaning of the word.  It says one who is “just right for him.”     

It is the picture of one who is “suitable,” one that corresponds to man.  The word literally means “face to face, “standing as in front of him.”  The word simply means that the woman is a match to the man, like the Ying and the Yang.  One writer put it this way: Suitable “suggests that what God creates for Adam will correspond to him.  Thus, the new creation will be neither a superior nor an inferior, but an equal.” Sort of like the South Pole and the North Pole.

This word “a helper suitable” means one who compliments, corresponds to, or completes. God could have given any number of labels to the woman. He chose the Hebrew word “ezer” which our English translations render “helper.”  While that IS the meaning of the Hebrew word, it unfortunately has communicated ideas that render women as second-class citizens.  This focus on the wife as the husband’s helper has led to the belief that God gave primary roles and responsibilities to men, and secondary roles to women.  But that’s not true.  There is nothing second class about God’s design for women.  The word ezer holds the clue. 

The word ezer is used 21 times in the Old Testament – twice here in Genesis 2 :18, 20. Three times it is used of the nations that Israel tried to ally themselves with for military aid.  Even more importantly, the word is used 16 different times for God as Israel’s helper.  For instance:

Psalm 33:20 (NLT) “We put our hope in the LORD. He is our help and our shield.”

Psalm 121:1-2 (NLT) – I look up to the mountains— does my help come from there?  2 My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth!”

Deuteronomy 33:26 (NLT) “There is no one like the God of Israel. He rides across the heavens to help you, across the skies in majestic splendor.”

In fact, for Moses, God was such a great helper that he named his son Eliezer to remind him of God as helper.

Exodus 18:4 (NLT) “His second son was named Eliezer, for Moses had said, ‘The God of my ancestors was my helper; he rescued me from the sword of Pharaoh.’”

So, Eliezer means, “God is my helper.” And not just any helper. It means a strong helper. As you look at each verse in the Old Testament that contains this word ezer you discover that this word is used consistently in a military context.  As Israel sought military aid from her neighbors, she was looking to them to be an ezer, a military helper. God as His people’s ”help and shield,” stands “sentry watch over His people.”

Go back to the Garden of Eden. Whether we want to admit it or not, this peaceful garden was a war zone. God had given the man and woman the command to rule and subdue the created world. They were put on high alert to the fact that fierce resistance lay ahead. You don’t use the word subdue if there is nothing to subdue. There was a struggle ahead. Here is God giving them the order to keep or guard the garden. This is the same language used for the cherubim who guards the entrance to the garden after Adam and Eve are evicted from the garden.  

Now put all this together – God – the helper of His people, the helper suitable to Adam – the command to be on the alert in the garden – and we have the picture of this word ezer carrying the idea of the warrior.  An ezer is a warrior.  Here is a word for wives and mothers that they know intuitively – you are fighting for your family, for your children, for your home.  God created women to be an ezer, awarrior standing alongside the man.

Do you see the picture here?  Husband and wife, standing side-by-side subduing this earth, bringing in the rule and reign of God; seeking to extend the Kingdom of God in this world. This certainly is not some unskilled laborer who assists a skilled laborer.  The idea of a “helper suitable” for the man as being dependent, needy, vulnerable, helpless, leaderless, or weak is totally wrong. The ezer, my friends, is a warrior. That’s a word worth remembering!

Until next time, fight the good fight!

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